“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
– Thornton Wilder
Yes, yes, gratitude.
A feeling. An experience. And – you guessed it – a practice.
Studies have found that regularly practicing gratitude has a positive effect on the firing of our brain neurons, by way of activating positive emotion centers, ultimately changing our brain chemistry. It’s similar to forging a new path when walking through a wooded area. The first few times may be a bit challenging and we have to be calculated and deliberate, but the more we travel the path, the clearer it is and easier it becomes to follow. This change in brain chemistry leads to a heightened well-being in all realms – mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social. When these positive emotion centers are activated, Dopamine and Serotonin are produced and have similar effects to many anti-depressants. In other words, gratitude is a natural anti-depressant. Research has shown that consciously focusing on our blessings improves our ability to self-soothe as well as allows us to develop a more expansive view of our lives. It opens space for more creative and flexible thinking, facilitating our ability to cope with stress and hardship. Additionally, practicing gratitude can help us build and strengthen bonds within our relationships, aid in better health, and reinforce our sense of spirituality.
To piggyback on this, gratitude opens our hearts. We’re more loving, more connected, and more present. We’re here, now. Aware of the gifts we’re being given in each moment, and taking the time to say an appreciative “Thank you.” Gratitude inspires us and gives us purpose. It instills enthusiasm, determination, hope, and optimism, allowing us to make more definitive progress toward achieving our goals. We feel hopeful, peaceful, and more content. We notice the myriad of ways abundance shows up within our lives, letting go of the focus on the perceived lack. Gratitude also opens space for the perspective of life as a miracle.
We tend to take for granted all of the blessings we’re given. We ignore the things that we expect to always be there: a roof over our heads, food in our pantry, and clothes on our back. Clean air, clean water, air conditioned and heated homes. Things which many people in this world don’t have the luxury of.
The simple truth is, we’re lucky. Very lucky.
As humans, we also have a tendency to pinpoint and pick out the things that aren’t “right.” We complain and moan and find ourselves miserable. We may even consider ourselves victims of life. The thing is, though, is that each difficulty we find ourselves dealing with does in fact hold a gem of wisdom, and can, if we so choose, become an opportunity to practice gratitude.
Life isn’t out to get us. Life works for us and through us. Practicing gratitude ensures not only more well-being, but more opportunities to feel grateful. It’s simple law of attraction. What we focus on, we will continue to experience. Of course, there will always be things that aren’t going as we want them to. The idea is that regular practice of gratitude strengthens our ability to simply see them, but not attach ourselves to them, which will undoubtedly open space for us to witness the divine gifts and miracles that are constantly bestowed upon us despite these things.
So, how can we start practicing gratitude?
- Start a gratitude journal. Find a special journal and maybe even a special pen. Take time each day and write down what you’re grateful for. My favorite times to do this is once in the morning and once in the evening. Doing so in the morning puts you into an immediate state of gratitude. Our day seems more meaningful and we feel more connected. Each evening, sit down and write what blessings that day gave you. When beginning, I suggest finding three things. It may be difficult at first to think of what to write. This is perfectly okay. Sit with the silence and wait. The words will come. If you still find yourself stuck, ask yourself, “What/who inspired me today? What brought me happiness today? In what or whom did I find comfort today?” Simply commit to finding three things. After awhile, you will probably start to notice that your lists become much longer! Once you get into this habit, challenge yourself not to repeat things from previous entries. This allows us to look even deeper at the little blessings and miracles.
- Be generous. Bake someone special a tray of cookies. Share food with the homeless. Give your unused clothes to charity. Volunteer for your community. Find ways to give back. This automatically places us in a space of gratitude because we recognize how important these things are. Offering ourselves and our blessings to those who are less fortunate than us affirms our gratitude. Not only will you feel more appreciative and purposeful by being of service to others, you will also make someone’s (or many someone’s!) day – an absolutely priceless reward.
- Express your appreciation. Think of 3 people in your life that have impacted your life in a positive way. Then, choose one and write them a thank you letter. Highlight each and every gift they’ve given you and all the reasons you are grateful for them. If you can, give it to them in person. Otherwise, send it through snail mail or an email. The point here is to express it, as this will not only benefit you, but the recipient as well. To add, start saying “thank you” more often in your day-to-day. Let your loved ones know how much you appreciate them.
- Shift away from complaining. Complaining is the opposite of gratitude. As I explained earlier, focusing on our lack only serves to solidify a “lacking” experience. When you find yourself in the midst of a complaint, stop yourself, take a breath, and move on. Challenge yourself to 21 days of no complaining. A helpful physical reminder can be a rubber band around your wrist. Snap it when you feel like or notice yourself complaining. Remember, 21 days makes a habit!
- Mindful gratitude. There are a few ways to do this. One consists of affirming to yourself throughout the day, as you move through your tasks, duties, and responsibilities, “I am grateful.” Simply saying this, whether out loud or mentally, can totally shift your energy and perspective. I also suggest holding this thought as you eat and drink – paying attention to your senses and finding reasons to be grateful right then. Appreciate the scents, visuals, tastes, feelings, and sounds – the fact that you have the opportunity to indulge in these things. Another way is by taking a walk of gratitude. This can be particularly helpful if you’re feeling a bit stressed out or anxious. Set aside 20 minutes and go for a walk – again, be mindful of the senses and reflect on how many things you can find to be grateful for in the world around you. This can also help calm the mind and open space for you to realize other things within you or your life to hold gratitude for.
Practicing gratitude isn’t always easy to begin with – it is a practice, after all – BUT the more we do so, the easier it becomes, as with all practices. You may have your days when you’re just not feeling it, and that’s okay. We’re human. The important thing is that we make a conscious effort to count our blessings as often as possible – and trust me, there are plenty! I also invite you to pay attention to the way gratitude makes you feel. Feel the love, feel the compassion, the understanding that gratitude enlivens in your heart. Notice how it brings you into the present, how you begin to feel more connected to yourself, to others, and to the world as it is. The deeper our appreciation, the more we begin to see through the eyes of our soul.
Concluding this, I’d like to share with you a few of my favorite quotes surrounding gratitude:
- “When you drink from the stream, remember the spring.” – Chinese Proverb
- “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart
- “Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” – Kahlil Gibran
- “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” – Alphonse Karr
- “Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” – Eckhart Tolle
How do you practice gratitude? How has it affected your life and wellbeing?
Let me know below!